The 10 Most Underpaid Jobs in the United States

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In the land of opportunity, where dreams are believed to come true, a stark contrast exists between the highest and lowest earners. This article unveils the findings of a survey that asked Americans to weigh in on the pay scales across various occupations. From healthcare workers to educators, we’ll explore the professions that keep America running yet struggle to make ends meet.

Farmers

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(68% of U.S. adult citizens think farmers are underpaid.)

Farmers, the backbone of America’s food supply, are among the most underpaid workers. They face unpredictable income due to volatile market prices and weather-dependent yields. High equipment, seed, and land costs lead to narrow profit margins. The rise in farm loan delinquencies further underscores the financial distress these vital contributors face in our economy.

Restaurant Workers

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(68% of U.S. adult citizens think restaurant workers are underpaid.)

Restaurant workers, often the heart of the hospitality industry, face significant wage disparities in America. With an average hourly wage of $14.89 and daily tips of $55, their earnings can still fall short, especially considering the varying costs of living across the country. The wage range, from a low of $10.79 to a high of $20.53 per hour, further highlights the income inconsistency within this sector. Despite their pivotal role in service and hospitality, restaurant workers often grapple with financial instability, making them among the most underpaid workers in America.

Teachers

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(64% of U.S. adult citizens think teachers are underpaid.)

Despite being among the most educated professionals in the nation, teachers face a significant wage gap. With over 95% of elementary, middle, and high school teachers holding at least a bachelor’s degree, their average earnings are surprisingly low. In 2024, full-time, year-round elementary school teachers earned an average of $50.319. This figure is far less than the average earnings of other highly educated workers.

Daycare Workers

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(60% of U.S. adult citizens think daycare workers are underpaid.)

Daycare workers, the unsung heroes in the upbringing of countless children, are among the most underpaid professionals in the U.S. Despite the crucial nature of their work, these workers, over 95% of whom are women, earn a median hourly wage of just $11.52, with an average annual salary of around $38,648 in 2024. With only 15% receiving health insurance from their jobs and high childcare costs, many can’t afford child care for their own children.

Retail Sales Worker

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(60% of U.S. adult citizens think retail sales workers are underpaid.)

Retail sales associates, often the face of consumer businesses, are among the most underpaid workers in the U.S. Despite the demands of their roles, they earn an average of just $14.99 per hour. The low pay and increasing job complexities have led to record quit rates among U.S. retail workers. This highlights the growing dissatisfaction in the retail sector and underscores the need to reevaluate wage structures in retail jobs.

Nurses

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(59% of U.S. adult citizens think nurses are underpaid.)

Nurses are among the most underpaid professionals in America. In the quest to reduce medical costs, nurses now shoulder many responsibilities previously held by doctors, yet their compensation doesn’t reflect this shift. Nursing roles, particularly those in high-stress environments like emergency rooms, intensive-care units, and delivery rooms, are among the most underpaid professions. With an average hourly wage of $43.72, their compensation often doesn’t reflect the breadth of their responsibilities and the depth of their impact.

 Factory Workers

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(58% of U.S. adult citizens think factory workers are underpaid.)

Factory workers, the backbone of the manufacturing industry, are among the most underpaid in America. With an average hourly pay of around $16.18 to $16.64 in 2024, their annual salary ranges from approximately $24,000 to $50,000. This is significantly lower than the national average salary of $59,384 in Q4 of 2023. Despite their vital contribution to the production line, these workers face economic hardships. This highlights the need to reassess pay scales in the manufacturing industry.

 Police Officers

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(48% of U.S. adult citizens think police officers are underpaid.)

In the United States, there is a significant disparity in police officer salaries. Some officers earn comfortable middle-class wages, while others struggle with poverty or near-poverty pay. This wage gap is evident across metropolitan areas and rural communities.

This wage gap affects the officers and the communities they serve. Areas with a low tax base, where residents live in poverty, often have an underpaid and under-resourced police force. This situation is described as another form of penalty for being poor.

 Social Workers

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(48% of U.S. adult citizens think social workers are underpaid.)

A recent study from the University of Washington School of Social Work reveals that human services workers in Washington state, including social workers, are significantly underpaid. These workers earn at least 30% less than their counterparts in other industries, and for those employed by nonprofit organizations, the wage gap widens to 37%. The median annual earnings for these workers in 2019 was $33,995, nearly 40% less than those in the non-caregiving industry. Furthermore, when these workers switch to a different field, they typically see an hourly pay increase of 7% within a year.

Truck Drivers

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(45% of U.S. adult citizens think truck drivers are underpaid.)

In the U.S., truck drivers face significant challenges. Despite the median pay being $47,130 annually, many drivers endure long hours, stressful conditions, and personal sacrifices. The job often includes unpaid wait times, which can cost American truck drivers more than $1 billion per year. Furthermore, the industry experiences high turnover rates, with some reports suggesting that 9 out of every ten drivers will no longer be working for their company within a year.